|Kyrie Irving dribbles against Puerto Rico during their game at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 22, 2014 in New York City.
NEW YORK -- If Team USA’s chemistry isn’t exactly where the players and coaches want it to be before heading off to Spain and the FIBA World Cup, they seem satisfied about where it is.
Three wins in as many games against fellow World Cup qualifiers, including a 112-86 victory against Puerto Rico Friday night at New York’s Madison Square Garden, has given the NBA all-star squad increasing confidence.
For a team that has had its share of obstacles — major injuries and athletes withdrawing from the team, among them — gaining confidence has been a welcome change.
“We’re very comfortable, but we still continue to grow,” said point guard Stephen Curry, who led Team USA with a game-high 20 points against Puerto Rico. “Especially when you go overseas and bunker down as a team. There’s a lot of things going on here in New York and Chicago, a lot of extracurricular stuff as well as practices and games.
“So once you’re over in Spain and understand what the mission is, you’re kind of by yourselves and our chemistry will continue to grow. It’s at a pretty good level right now.”
With its three victories against Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico by an average of 32 points, Team USA looks incredibly contented.
The victory Friday night added even more confidence, not because of the final score, but because Team USA traded the lead with Puerto Rico throughout the first quarter and led by only five, 52-47, at halftime. Most of that came on a final-second three-pointer by Klay Thompson.
Team USA opened the second half with a 14-2 run in the first four minutes that put it ahead 66-49, and then continued to add to the lead to the end.
“We liked it because of our response,” Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And you can’t practice responses. You can only be in a situation and see how you’ll respond.
“We helped them with the way we were subbing, because we were trying some different combinations and things like that. And once we went to what we had been doing, I thought we played very, very well.”
Training, which began July 28 with a four-day camp in Las Vegas, has had its setbacks. First, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George broke his right leg in a gruesome injury in an intra-squad scrimmage on the final day in Nevada.
Then, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant withdrew from the team Aug. 7 before the second phase of training in Chicago began.
Building, and rebuilding, chemistry has been a continual process. Following Friday’s game, Krzyzewski trimmed his roster to the 12-man limit and now feels the squad is ready to leave for the Canary Islands on Saturday — and a last training phase with a final game against Slovenia.
Forwards Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons along with guards Kyle Korver and Damian Lillard were the last to be cut.
Besides Curry and Thompson, Krzyzewski will take to Spain a roster with DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Mason Plumlee and Derrick Rose.
“I’m excited about the 12 players selected and feel we have excellent versatility and the makings of a really good defensive team,” Krzyzewski said in a release naming the 12-man roster.
Team USA will have two more training sessions in the Canary Islands on Aug. 24-25, play Slovenia on Aug. 26 and then stage a youth clinic in Dakar, Senegal, before its first game in the World Cup on Aug. 30 against Finland in Bilbao, Spain.
“I believe we’re having fun, if anything,” said Faried, who had 12 points and was one of seven players in double figures against Puerto Rico. “When you’re having fun, everything else just falls in place.“
As winner of the past two major championships, the 2010 FIBA World Championships and the London 2012 Olympic Games, Team USA again will be the favorite, even if it didn’t get commitments from some of the biggest names in the NBA such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Regardless, the squad that has spent much of the past month preparing for the FIBA World Cup doesn’t see much, if any, drop off.
“Stephen Curry, Rudy Gay, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, the list goes on,” Faried said. “Klay Thompson shooting threes. We’re just having fun. We don’t have a day where we really don’t want to get out there.”
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.